To celebrate the arrival of Victoria Day in a few days’ time, I decided to photograph a medallion I purchased some years ago for less than $10, if I remember correctly. As was common at the time, one side has a convex surface, while the other shows a concave one. This medallion, which commemorates Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, or 60th regnal anniversary, exhibits a bust carved in very high relief, and features English, rather than Latin, inscriptions. The presence of English is not noteworthy on these kinds of medallions, which reflected popular feelings, as they were often given as gifts or keepsakes to children. This medallion, while very dirty, is still in excellent shape in terms of wear–a coin from that era in the same condition would fetch a small fortune rather than $10. (As a numismatic aside, this is just another reason to collect medallions if one is on a budget–they’re carved in higher relief, are less worn, and are an exponential fraction of the price.)
Victoria’s title “Empress of India” (a Latin version of which may be seen on older Canadian coins) has an echo on the obverse (heads side), where you can read the word “Empress” on the crown. The reverse (tails side) features a fascinating alliterative inscription: “60 years peace, purity, prosperity and power in Canada.” In terms of Victoria’s reign, one “p” that I think could also be mentioned is “progress,” as what would become known as Canada went from being a handful of poor colonies to a sovereign nation under the Crown.
The medallion’s characteristics are certainly not politically-correct, and partially for that reason it is of more interest to me. At the same time, it’s worth remembering, as a refugee friend of mine from India pointed out some years ago, that India was greatly improved under the British, even if many injustices were committed along the way. Similarly, one might correctly feel regret over the tragedies that were to befall the First Nations people in Canada as a consequence of the migration and invasion of the White Man, even if worse was committed by the anti-monarchists south of the border. Again, though, it should be pointed out that the worst injustices, such as the residential school system and the banning of the potlatch, occurred not because of the queen in London, but because of the prejudices of the people and politicians in western Canada and Ottawa.
No nation’s history is without reproach, but Canada, like its colonial sisters Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, St. Kitts, and many others, enjoys a measure of peace and prosperity that is largely the legacy of British colonial rule. In remembering the past, celebration of the positive is as much required as criticism of those things which we wish had not happened. Happy Victoria Day!